Quick and Easy Reward Ideas for Busy Families

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

Rewards play an important role in helping kids with ADHD stay motivated and on track as they learn new behaviors or follow through on their daily behavior goals. Often when kids with ADHD don’t follow through on a task or aren’t making an effort the way we might expect them to, it’s because they are struggling to overcome the difficulties with motivation that accompany ADHD. Rewards give them the boost that they need, but are only effective when they are provided immediately, consistently, and are something the child truly wants to earn. The difficulties that kids with ADHD have with delayed gratification make smaller daily rewards more effective than delayed rewards that take longer to earn.

For busy families whose weekdays are jam packed with school, after-school activities, homework, appointments, tutoring, dinner, and hopefully a few minutes of family time, finding ways to consistently provide daily rewards is a challenge. Small trinkets or grab-bag style rewards are only motivating for a little while, and often end up creating clutter at home. Screen-time can be very motivating for many kids and it’s inexpensive, but it’s often problematic, especially if you have a child who gets upset when his or her screen time is over, or if parents are too busy in the evenings to effectively monitor time limits and media content.

Ask kids an open-ended question about what they want to earn, and you’ll probably get a list of activities that are too time consuming or expensive to do regularly or tangible items that are expensive and would take much longer than one day to earn. Presenting your child with a list of daily rewards that he or she might enjoy can help him or her think outside of the box and focus his or her attention on coming up with rewards that are both feasible and motivating. From this list he or she can select top choices, or add additional options, and then use his or her selections to create a smaller “reward menu.” Every day when your child achieves his or her daily behavior goals, he or she can choose one item from the personalized reward menu.  

The list of quick and easy reward ideas below can be a good starting point. You may want to create your own refined list from this larger selection, based on what you think will be the best fit for your family. Just remember that kids’ preferences and interests change quickly, and you might be surprised to learn that something your child couldn’t get enough of last week isn’t even on his or her radar today! So, always involve your child in the final reward selection process.


20 Quick and Easy Reward Ideas

  • Offer a later bedtime (5-10 minutes later)
  • Read an extra book with a parent
  • Make a 5-minute video of singing, dancing, telling jokes, etc.
  • Hold a 5 or 10-minute phone call or video chat with a grandparent, other relative, or friend
  • Choose the radio station in the car
  • Offer a coupon to get out of doing a chore
  • Choose a special treat for school lunch or snack
  • Invite a friend to join a weekend activity or get together
  • Offer a coupon for fun one-on-one time with a parent
  • Let the dog or cat sleep in the bedroom
  • Help plan or prepare favorite snack or meal
  • Build a pillow fort in the living room
  • Have a picnic-style dinner on a blanket in the living room or outside when the weather is nice
  • Choose individual arts & craft supplies (e.g., a tube of paint, one tub of Play-Doh, a sheet of stickers, a role of mini patterned Duck Tape®, etc.)
  • Download one song or short video
  • Pick out a special outfit to wear to school
  • Create funny hairstyles with hair gel or mouse for 5 minutes before a bath or shower
  • Add a fizzy or bubbly colorful bath bomb or bubble bath to an evening bath
  • Color pictures that can be used as placements during dinner
  • Get to school 10 minutes early to play on the play structure (or stay 10 minutes after pick-up)


Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit www.huntingtonfranchise.com.

This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

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